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Nonviolent drug offenders among those pardoned by President Obama

For many years now, law enforcement has taken an aggressive stand on drug offenses. Mandatory minimums and elaborate sting operations are among some of the tactics used to identify and prosecute people accused of committing a drug-related crime. People all over New York are receiving extremely harsh sentences for a variety of offenses, even those that are not considered to be serious. 

This has created some troubling issues, including overpopulation in jails and a huge number of people who have a criminal record for drug crimes; many of whom are nonviolent offenders. The concern over this trend has been steadily gaining attention and has resulted in greater awareness and new laws aimed at fixing what many people are calling a broken system. Recently, President Barack Obama took action of his own by commuting sentences for eight people who have been referred to as victims of the system.

President Obama used presidential clemency power to pardon eight people who were serving life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole. They were all nonviolent offenders who had committed crimes related to crack cocaine. Some of the people who were pardoned played very minor roles in larger drug operations, but were given life-without-parole sentences because they refused a plea offer or refused to testify against others.

One woman was sentenced because cocaine was being stored in her house by an ex. Because she had previous minor drug offenses on her record, she was sentenced to life without parole.

Each of the people who had their sentences commuted was sentenced before laws reducing mandatory minimums were passed in 2011. Had they been sentenced after that time, reports indicate that they would likely have already served enough time in prison for their offenses.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for nonviolent drug offenders to face extremely harsh penalties. Many people are serving sentences in prison that far exceed the nature of their crimes. While some of these people may be able to have their cases and sentences reexamined, many will not. Thousands of people are serving life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, which illustrates just how seriously authorities take drug crimes. Rather than face this confusing, harsh and complex system alone, people in New York who are facing drug charges may want to work with an attorney to defend themselves against charges and avoid exposure to overly harsh punishments. 

Source: The Huffington Post, "Obama Commutes Sentences Of 8 Inmates Convicted Of Crack Offenses," Saki Knafo, Dec. 19, 2013

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Lerner & Lerner, P.C.

Former prosecutors with more than 50 years of combined experience

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